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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, August 11, 2022

Fentanyl Seizures at Border Continue to Spike, Making San Diego a National Epicenter for Fentanyl Trafficking; U.S. Attorney’s Office Prioritizes Prosecutions and Prevention Programs

Assistant U. S. Attorney Adam Gordon (619) 546-6720

NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – August 12, 2022

SAN DIEGO – More deadly fentanyl is being seized by border officials in San Diego and Imperial counties than at any of the nation’s 300-plus ports of entry, making this federal district an epicenter for fentanyl trafficking into the United States.

In the first nine months of FY 2022 (October through June), U.S. Customs and Border Protection law enforcement agencies in San Diego and Imperial counties (CBP Field Operations and Border Patrol) seized 5,091 pounds of fentanyl – which amounts to about 60 percent of the 8,425 pounds of fentanyl seized around the entire country. Click here for CBP and Border Patrol statistics. 

These fentanyl seizures in San Diego by CBP include land ports of entry at San Ysidro, Otay Mesa, Tecate, Andrade and Calexico. Seizures by Border Patrol stations within the San Diego Sector include Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, Brown Field, El Cajon, Campo, Boulevard, San Clemente and Murietta.  In addition, seizures by the Border Patrol in the Imperial Valley include El Centro and Calexico.

Mexican cartels are increasingly manufacturing fentanyl for distribution and sale in the United States Precursors are imported from China and other countries and then pressed into pills, powder or mixed into other drugs at massive, industrial-scale labs.

Initially, drug trafficking organizations were adding small amounts of fentanyl to large loads of other drugs like methamphetamine. But more recently, these criminal organizations are moving significantly larger quantities of fentanyl pills and powder across the border. In a recent six-day period, CBP and Border Patrol intercepted four separate vehicle loads of fentanyl weighing between 100 and 250 pounds from July 13 to 18 in Campo and Calexico. Please see https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/local-media-release/five-days-six-busts-have-calexico-cbp-officers-seizing-494-packages and https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/local-media-release/border-patrol-agents-seize-over-200-pounds-fentanyl.

“A decade ago, we didn’t even know about fentanyl, and now it’s a national crisis,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “The amount of fentanyl we are seizing at the border is staggering. The number of fentanyl seizures and fentanyl-related deaths in our district are unprecedented.”

  • According to statistics released by the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office, fentanylrelated overdose deaths have increased 2,375 percent in San Diego County, from 33 in 2016 to at least 817 in 2021. The total may increase as the Medical Examiner’s Office makes final determinations in causes of death.
  • According to CBP, seizures of fentanyl in San Diego are up by approximately 323 percent in the last three years, from just 1,599 pounds in FY 2019 to 6,767 in FY 2021. With three months to go in FY 2022, seizures in San Diego in FY 2022 are on pace to meet or exceed 2021 levels.
  • In Imperial County, seizures of fentanyl increased 272 percent from FY 2019 to FY 2022, from 40 pounds to 149 pounds – with three months still to count in FY 2022.

Please see the following video messages by U.S. Attorney Grossman; Anne Maricich, acting Director of Field Operations for the San Diego Field Office; San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent Aaron M. Heitke;  El Centro Chief Patrol Agent Greg Bovino; HSI San Diego Special Agent in Charge Chad Plantz; and Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy of the FBI’s San Diego Field Office: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLGvHJHdPh24UtqMDDnr080IE66OTl8Nxg

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in the San Diego Field Office have the arduous task of sifting through 150,000 northbound travelers every day to find those conducting illegal activity, including narcotics smuggling,” said Anne Maricich, acting Director of Field Operations for the San Diego Field Office.  “Drug trafficking organizations will use anyone they can to help them with their dangerous and illegal activities, including regular border crossers as well as teens in the hopes that they won’t arouse suspicion.  CBP is committed to keeping this dangerous drug from reaching our communities.”

“2016 was the first year San Diego Sector Border Patrol tracked fentanyl seizures,” said San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent Aaron M. Heitke. “In that year, our sector seized a total of 71 pounds. This fiscal year to date, San Diego Sector has already seized over 600 pounds, an increase of 745 percent, with two months remaining in the fiscal year. We will continue to work with our National and International partners to dismantle these criminal organizations and keep our borders free of these nefarious actors.”

“Fentanyl is dangerous on all levels: To our Border Patrol Agents and CBP Officers working hard to interdict this dangerous toxin, as well as to the general public who too often meet a tragic end,” said El Centro Chief Patrol Agent Greg Bovino. “With a concerted effort between law enforcement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the public, we can stop fentanyl smuggling and protect our communities.”

“Fentanyl is an extremely dangerous narcotic that kills indiscriminately,” said HSI San Diego Special Agent in Charge Chad Plantz. “Fentanyl is not the type of drug you experiment with, and it is only a matter of time before drug users consume a fatal dose. This deadly drug does not discriminate nor do the transnational criminal organizations (TCO) who smuggle this dangerous drug. These TCOs have no regard for the lives taken and the violence created by this illegal enterprise. HSI is committed to preventing this drug from entering our communities and destroying lives and devastating families. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and prioritize investigations targeting the drug cartels who are smuggling fentanyl into the United States and bring to justice any organization or individuals who seek to profit off the sale of this dangerous narcotic.”

“There is no doubt we are in the middle of a fentanyl crisis at the hands of criminal enterprises, transcending our borders into the communities where we live, where we work, where we go to school,” said Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy of the FBI’s San Diego Field Office. “The FBI’s mission is to protect the American people and we will apply the full force of the FBI behind investigating those criminal enterprises to stop the influx of illicit fentanyl into San Diego. We are dedicated to eliminating this threat where it begins, and will devote all necessary resources and personnel, while working alongside our law enforcement partners, to ensure justice is served and our communities are safe.”

“Air and Marine Operations will continue to work with our federal, local, state and international partners to provide air and marine capabilities along our borders to interdict fentanyl loads that are being brought into the United States by criminal organizations who have no regard for the implications of such a lethal drug,” said Brandon Tucker, director of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection San Diego Air and Marine Branch. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, which is responsible for enforcing federal criminal laws in San Diego and Imperial counties, is employing a dual strategy of prosecution and prevention. Regarding the former, the office has prioritized and significantly increased the number of fentanyl-related prosecutions. There has been an approximately 1,600 percent increase in the number of people charged with fentanyl-related crimes over the last five years. These include numerous successful prosecutions of dealers who distribute fentanyl resulting in someone’s death. Those charges carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

“We continue to work with our law enforcement partners to pursue justice for the victims who die as a result of fentanyl trafficking and to prosecute the people responsible for this crisis - from the Mexican drug cartel leadership, to the couriers, to the street dealers who distribute the fatal doses,” Grossman said.

The strategy for combatting the crisis cannot be limited to prosecutions. Law enforcement agencies, including federal, state and local partners, must continue to lead on education and other prevention efforts. For example, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which holds a leadership role in the county’s opioid coalition, has been a driving force behind the creation of a fentanyl tool kit that provides critical information to the public on fentanyl dangers. Please see the Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force website: https://www.sdpdatf.org/community-parent-fentanyl-toolkit. In addition, the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Outreach Team is available to provide presentations to any audience. Interested groups can arrange a fentanyl presentation by contacting cindy.cipriani@usdoj.gov or shastity.urias@usdoj.gov

Grossman also noted that the Administration’s National Drug Control Strategy focuses on two critical drivers of the epidemic: untreated addiction and drug trafficking. “Our office is taking a 360-degree approach to the fentanyl crisis. We are prioritizing actions that will save lives, promoting grant opportunities, working with partners to get people the care they need, going after drug traffickers’ profits, and making better use of data to guide all these efforts.” See National Drug Control Strategy, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/National-Drug-Control-2022Strategy.pdf.

We need help from everyone in the community to be educated on the dangers of fentanyl. “Prevention is key to stopping the death toll,” Grossman said.  “Parents need to talk with their kids about fentanyl. 

A tiny amount will kill, and people are overdosing by accident, with many unaware that they are even taking fentanyl. No drug is safe in this era. Do not experiment with any illicit drug, because it might contain fentanyl. And it just might be the last thing you do.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, together with several federal law enforcement partners, has created a poster that will be hung at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa ports of entry, warning would-be smugglers and distributors of fentanyl of stiff consequences if their actions lead to deadly overdose. “YOUR FENTANYL KILLS,” the poster says in both English and Spanish. “Distribution of Fentanyl (pills or powder) resulting in death or serious bodily injury carries a mandatory sentence of 20 years in federal prison. YOU PAY THE PRICE!”

On August 31, the U.S. Attorney and other law enforcement officials will observe International Overdose Awareness Day, the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdose and remember those who have died and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind. The campaign raises awareness of overdose - one of the world’s worst public health crises - and stimulates action and discussion about evidence-based overdose prevention and drug policy.

Topic(s): 
Opioids
Press Release Number: 
CAS22-0811-Fentanyl
Updated August 11, 2022